Friday, 26 June 2015

Day 177: Walk with us in Warsaw :) Video Post

This morning I pick up Alison from the airport and rope my brother in into a little tour de Warsaw. It's a fab day and if you would like to share a snippet with us, see the video below :)

My lessons are set for the weekend and the plan is as follows:

9:20-10:20 Lesson 1
10:30-11:30 Lesson 2
11:40-12:40 Lesson 3
12:40-13:40 Lesson 4
13:40-15:10 Lesson 5
Break 20min
15:30-16:40 Lesson 6
16:40-18:00 Lesson 7
Lesson 8

9:20 lub 9:00 Lesson 1
10:20 lub 10:00 Lesson 2
11:20 lub 11:00 Lesson 3
Break 20 min
12:40 lub 12:20 Lesson 4
13:40 lub 13:20 Lesson 5
Break 20 min
14:40 Lesson 6
15:40 Lesson 7

Let's the fun time commence! :) 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Day 175 & 176: The ideas in the clouds and being spoilt ;) LONG post alert.

175: Before Landing

Best thing about flying is seeing the many different clouds - today's ones keep me entertained for a while ;) 
It's a nice, quiet flight. I have a seat far away from any screaming babies this time so I wait until we are cruising safely (using this word loosely here I suppose!) above the clouds so I can pull my laptop out and write about my little yesterday's epiphany...

For years I've been trying to figure out a business model for Aspire Academy. A model that is not a riding school model where horses have to work for their food. A model that doesn't rely on groups of riders riding in groups but one that relies on quality relationship between a horse and rider. A model that doesn't require one horse to be ridden by tens of different riders a week.

One that is financially viable, economically sustainable and most of all, creates something valuable for the riders taking part and for anyone involved in provision of the programmes.

For years I have struggled because I have a marginal interest in making profit...It's an odd thing but making money has zero motivation for me.  However, I care deeply about the success of my venture and I want the project to make money in such quantity that it can go on supporting everyone involved.

For a brief moment I considered running the project as a non-profit organisation but after learning more about it I knew that wasn't what I wanted.
I then thought about crowdfunding, seeking supporters, maybe applying for some funds or grants but there has always been an issue at the core - I did not have a vision for the structure of the business in the same way as I had it for the subject of the business. Why would someone want to invest/support something when the creator didn't clearly see where they were going with the their business...?

In fact, I even hesitate to call it a business sometimes as it really seems like a hobby with an income attached.

When I got back from Portugal in February 2013 I started searching and learning more. I have accumulated various ideas and actioned some aspects of the venture but there's always been something missing. This annoying feeling that if only you had that one ingredient all the others would slot into place.

And then, on Tuesday afternoon, while browsing shelves of Waterstones in Oxford, I stumbled upon that ingredient...

I know what you're thinking. Horse riding is as far from "most pressing human needs" as it gets but it's the core of Yunus' idea that gave me mine. 

As I speed read the chapters standing by the bookshelf I feel like in a sci-fi movie where you can see your thoughts as jigsaw on a computer screen. You find one that makes you realise the image you are looking at and so all the other elements spread around also become easy to fit in. Surreal! 

There is still quite a bit that I want to consider and a couple of people I would like to run my idea through. As I sit here looking over the clouds I think 'how on earth did you not think about it earlier you idiot'. Then again, I might still be taking idiotic chances with all this. I might even be thinking - do I really want to go ahead with this...We shall see! But I do have goose bumps all over my arms ;) 

175 After Landing and 176 in full

The biggest and most wonderful bonus of doing my training clinics in Poland is that I get to spend some precious time with my family. I always try to time it so I have a couple of days with my parents on both sides of the weekend and as I stay over at my aunt's place over the weekend I get to see her, my uncle, my cousins (one of which I injected with horse virus at the age of 4; she is still riding and is taking part in my clinic :) ) and my brother with his family as they live not too far from the yard. It's the sort of working affair I really love and miss it so much when I am in the UK grinding everything on my own.
It would have been so much easier to reach my various coaching dreams with that support on the island! Alas, some things just happen the hard way ;)

The being away factor brings me spoiling treatment each time I am back. I get breakfasts in bed, my wonderful Dad drops me off anywhere I need to go, and my Mum transforms into a SPA consultant ;) I am very lucky and doing everything on my own has truly taught me to appreciate them more than I ever had in my teenage years.

Dreamy little barn and paddocks opposite the cemetery 
 The day I land I go to sit in a shop with my Mum until she closes (she runs a swimwear shop) and we catch up on life while serving customers ;) I used to do a couple of days a week in the shop with my brother when we were at high school and feel like I could probably still sell a few bikinis now ;) My Mum taught us well ;)

Dad arrives and we decide to visit my the cemetery of course since she didn't keep a deal we did in April and didn't wait for my June visit. The evening is so perfectly sunny and warm. There is a cute little barn just opposite the cemetery gates. It's in the countryside in the village my Gran was born and where I spent many a childhood holiday.
We bring some candles, fresh flowers and water the plants. Sit there in the sun with her for a bit. It's sad.

The next morning I sleep until 9am and my SPA professional aka Mum prepares a breakfast in bed service.

Just in case you are wondering, no, this is not a typical Polish breakfast ;) My mum loves healthy lifestyle and "clean" food so I get these "vitamins on plates" kind of meals every time I am home.

We chill for the entire morning and then my Dad drops us off at a tack shop as I need some new boots - I managed to destroy mine with the amount of walking I do so didn't even bring them over since the sole was coming off.
I find a perfect and super comfortable pair and meet a young girl I taught a couple of years ago so we have a nice catch up while browsing horsey goodies. She is buying new long boots for her first higher level dressage test at the weekend with her pony so I tell her next time I am around I will try to watch her compete.

I ask her advice on the boots and she gives them thumbs up. Always trust horse mad teenagers with what's good and current on the clothes/equipment market ;) Apparently I chose the best boots (good job the price tag is as comfortable as the boots!)

Then it's off to my still living-and-well Gran and Granddad (who is over 90 now but doing well) for a dinner. Gran D. is a dumplings professional and so of course the dinner includes them. First course is a veggie soup which I used to dislike but I am quite fond of now. And then it's pierogi (Polish dumplings) with berries and greek yoghurt plus some cheesecake for afters. You can never just turn up for "something" at Gran D.'s. You get the whole shebang ;)

I chill again in the evening with my parents, catching up with my online stuff while my Mum watches some odd series set in Turkey five hundreds years ago...She loves period dramas it seems!

Busy day tomorrow picking up my UK rider from the airport and taking her for a spin around Warsaw with my brother :) Look forward to it already!



Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Day 173 & 174: #EquineHour and Racewood competition, preps for the clinic and one amazing epiphany!

173: Monday

One of my Foundation Programme riders on the simulator today. Really good session with some significant improvements. 

I am told a few "negative' things about riding simulators. That they don't teach you feel. That the movement is too artificial to create proper benefit. I am even told you can't teach rising trot on it well because there is no forward momentum.

After regularly using the Racewood dressage simulator for the last two years with variety of riders over different levels and experiences I know that all the negatives shared with me were wrong. 

It costs me dearly to hire this amazing piece of equipment but the results of training with it are fantastic. This coming Sunday, #EquineHour and Racewood Limited are running an exciting competition on Twitter...I would absolutely love to win it! Not sure if I will manage to take part though as it's during my clinic :-/ 

Day 174 Tuesday

A very different Tuesday today as my clients had to re-schedule so I after a busy morning I am in Oxford from early afternoon onwards and having a very productive online/admin day.  

First of all, I go through all my videos from September clinic in Poland as I am off there tomorrow to run another one over the 27-28 June weekend. If you would like to read more about how I prepare for serial coaching weekends/Aspire Grassroots Clinics, please pop over to Aspire blog and read my today's post: Through coach's eyes: Reflections before a clinic 
Second of all - I come across a book while in a book shop in a business section and have one hell of an epiphany! Since I will mostly be travelling tomorrow and nothing exciting is due to happen for most of the day, I will write about it in tomorrow's post once I have had a little think on how much I can reveal now. 
Suffice to say, it gives me this "how come you have not thought about this earlier, you idiot!" feeling ;) 



Sunday, 21 June 2015

Day 172: Addicted to pursuit

Treated to this lovely little indulgence - afternoon tea with some reading :) More sugar than I probably had in the last 2 months ;) 

"Day off" is such an odd name. I wish there was a nicer name for a day when things are maybe a little slower or just different than on other days.
I don't do any horses or teaching today but stay on stand by in case my riders competing at Farley Hall need me. All goes well and Emma rings with an update. I am delighted to hear she had a great day. Shabby had a tense dressage but managed 40 for it which is rather good. In a relaxed state he is totally capable of mid-30s but keeping him zen within the boards is an art in itself.
He jumps better too, has 3 down and at least in some parts of the course he is much more rideable. They have clear XC but with some crazy amount of time penalties and I think Emma must have literally flown it! The course causes some problems with many run outs and stops so it's the sort of event where Shabby can show what a special little horse he is. So very happy for them as they work hard on the details.

JTE (jockey-to-event-rider) does very well too. It's her first affiliated BE event and they have 39 dressage, 1 down show jumping and one stop on XC course, otherwise fly clear. Super happy for them too as they only just started and there is still so much scope for improvement :)

I read an interview with Mark Cavendish, the cyclist. He says of his sport "It’s a rollercoaster of pain, fear, joy, crashes, excitement, boredom and pressure. But I live for it.” He could easily be talking about horse sports ;)

I think of the motivation. It's not just the love of horses even though of course it's a huge element. It's not about pursuing recognition, fame or some form of competitive glory. It's the taste of pursuit in itself.




Saturday, 20 June 2015

Day 171: Beautiful day to remember!

10.38 am. I am on train to London and my phone beeps. Txt message: "Letter is in the door of the front passenger seat x"

It should be easy to pick it up. I am guessing I will sit in front in the car and pop the letter into my pocket.
I wrote it a couple of weeks ago after discussing the content with Tatiana and Gary and they printed it out this morning. All systems go for a surprise of a lifetime for their daughter and my pupil - a young rider I've been teaching since March last year.

The plan is pretty simple. I give the letter to the girl which supposed be a to-do list with some instructions for her non-ridden session today. We somehow get cameras going so we can video the whole thing.

The letter has no instructions. Instead it says:

Dear Caitlin,

It’s Jasper here. I know, it seems unlikely that I am typing this but let’s just say, I am a very special horse!

Here’s the thing. A few weeks ago, I’d been chatting to your mum and she said she would quite like to ride again. As you know, I have fabulous manners so I immediately said I would be more than happy to oblige when she is ready. 

She went away and thought about it and we chatted some more. You see, I am very young. Some call me green but you and I, we both know, I am dark bay, black almost, so let’s just smile about these colour blind individuals. It’s ok. I have perfect manners. I wouldn’t sneer. 

Anyway. I digress. So, I need education. I want to know how it feels to move well and in balance. I want to go to fun rides and sponsored rides and do a lot of hacking out. I would even like to do some arena schooling and lunging and in-hand work. 
I want to learn to trot over trot poles and jump little jumps - as big as I can and my conformation and type allows me. I want to go to little dressage shows and show all them fancy warmbloods what a well mannered cob can do! 

But most of all, I want to have an adventure with a rider who will teach me what I need to know to be the great riding horse I can be while having the time of their riding life with me :) 

That’s when we are getting closer to the whole point of this letter so I am getting a little nervous…So I will just say it. 

I am no longer Jasper Hill. I am now Jasper Thorpe! I agreed to be bought by your Mum under the condition that you will train me and educate me and care for me and love me until she is ready to ride me. It might take a year or more, you know. 

Even though you are only at the beginning of your equestrian journey and I am very young I have perfect manners (have I already mentioned that?) so I would be very well suited to learn with, you see.

I hope you are still here? I asked Wiola and she said she will help you train me and put an educational plan for me every month so you won’t be alone on this quest, I promise :) And Kelly will look after me when you are studying and learning for your exams and do other human things you might need to do. 
And I even spoke to Tilly because she was worried that now you have me you won’t ride her anymore but she mustn’t be concerned. She is a great jumper and knows a lot so she will continue teaching you so you can teach me :) 

But we need to have a deal here too - even once in a year or so your Mum is my main rider and when you have your fancy event horse and train over big jumps and do complicated dressage stuff, you will still see me and take me up the gallops from time to time for a great run! 

Now, let’s get on with it and make great things happen shall we? :) 
P.S. I promised Gary he can have an odd lesson on me too if that’s ok with you? 

Best Regards,
Jasper Thorpe

Yesterday I wrote of an "event" I needed to accommodate into my day. That was Jasper's pre-purchase vetting. I couldn't write about it in case Caitlin read my blog ;)

Absolutely perfect day. All the riders do super in their lessons and this together with the joy of uniting Jasper - the near perfect equine specimen, and the Thorpe family, makes me feel very lucky to be able to do all this for a living.

You would think, hey, it's just horses and yet they make so many amazing, fulfilling, heart warming situations happen :)

Here's to many wonderful years ahead to the lucky new owners! :-D


Friday, 19 June 2015

Day 170

It's 9pm and I just returned home. It's been a long day today with some amended schedule to accommodate an event that I will tell you more about tomorrow.
Suffice to say, I have to re-organise my day so to fit everything in I put my alarm for 7am. I write for an hour and do the video feedback for an oversees rider who is doing my virtual training programme.

I then set off to London and find out that an earlier bus is actually more pleasant and faster than the one I usually take. It's a big bonus as getting stuck on this route is something I don't relish particularly.

Moira has Tilly almost ready when I walk in so we start on time. Our main area of focus this month is feel for the movement and harmony with it. The second step is affecting that movement. We are working on independence of the reins in transitions yet remaining connected. It's a tricky task but I enjoy playing with this feel/reaction puzzle. We change up between being on the lunge and using seat only to then riding independently and experimenting with how much Tilly notices seat questions and how much she herself relies on the rein cues.

I also do various coordination exercises which are surprisingly difficult even if just minute movements are required :)

Then it's couple of hours of the event followed by me hoping on Larry, the new horse I'd been offered as a share horse for the Academy programmes.
He feels substantial despite his 14.3hh, has a nice solid feel and very kind nature. I walk, trot and canter him on a loose rein to check his reactions and to know what level of rider he would best suit to. I think he might be a great confidence giver and I am super happy to have him.

If you would like to join my coaching programme, please see Larry's details and the coaching offer on here:

He is also rather adorable, loves attention and is easy to do which is an added bonus and something I value in all training horses I take on.

Add caption
Finally it's time for Oscar and I decide to take longer time in walk and only proceed further until I am absolutely satisfied he is with me in walk. I normally give him a long walk anyway but today, I walk for almost 30 minutes.

It works. He is starting to feel like a whole rather than like riding a solid piece and an elephant trunk. I focus on each hind legs pushing evenly and feel the push come forward to my hands.
It works as when I finally trot, he doesn't try to disconnect and invert.

I do several canter, trot, canter transitions too. He is oh so angry in the canter but the moment I give him a pat his ears flop sideways and he tries harder. He really is people's pleaser even though he isn't finding his work easy.

We finish with some really rather nice feeling trot on the long rein. Very happy with him.

Snooze time!

Pic left: Oscar boy playing with the hose while I try to wash him off

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Days 166 - 169: High speed internet catch up on the last few days :)


Not a great day mostly spent on crunching numbers. I sometimes laugh that I take the serious parts of life like a dog - one day at a time and enjoy the hell out of it. My more life-planning side has to be brought up artificially. I literally have to make an appointment with myself the dog-personality and myself the responsible-adult-that-will-not-be-able-to-work-forever.
We meet and we chat.

- What's the problem? - the dog says - aren't you enjoying your days?
- Yes very much so - the adult says - but what contingency plan do you have?
- Uhm, well...might get run over tomorrow or killed by a horse, who needs that plan!
- No. You do need it. You will enjoy building everything further knowing it has a future ahead.
- Yes. You are right of course.
- Ok, so let's look at the numbers.

So we look and we analyse and we reflect. I don't mind changes, they are part of my life all the time. I end up with a massive headache but I know it's necessary. Standing still is not an option.


My mind is still in yesterday's mode but thankfully the option of a hack out presents itself and we go out instead of doing a training session in the arena. The weather is delightful, everything in abundance, including flies that make lives of the horses a little twitchy! It's good to hit the fields and I feel the stress evaporating slowly, mixing with a little breeze, a creative chat with my rider and warm sun rays on my back.

I have an interesting ride on Oscar. He seems to misinterpret my questions which baffles me a great deal. It's hot and I am not in the greatest form but his answers are so random I walk for a minute and have a think.
He doesn't do anything bad, but it feels like when you write on a computer you don't know and someone swapped all the keys around ;)
I decide to push on anyway and even though we continue chatting different languages I praise him a lot when we meet half way and work him quite hard. He steps up to the challenge and settles a little.

Most horses ask for a stretch when worked harder but Oscar always hesitates. I go until he really wants to release and when he does, make much of him and call it a day. There is always another day.


I start the day with my Start Programme rider and we focus the session on simple transitions. How to do them via passive resistance from seat and for the reins to be a finishing touch. He does very well.
Then I teach a young girl on an ex racehorse who travelled around the world to places I only read on Google ;) I've been teaching this pair for several weeks now and the girl has built a really wonderful partnership with this horse. We are working on her Pony Club horse trials test in preparation for the event she is doing at the weekend.
I particularly like how calm she is with all the corrections, I know many adult riders who don't have half of her patience! Really great to see such maturity in a teenage rider.

Then it's Merehead. He is working very well despite having a bit on/off training due to his exploits in the field. He is now sound and back in full work. His attitude is superb today.

Onto my jockey-to-event-rider aka JTE and Emma with her secret weapon - Nordic Run :) His canter transitions are becoming more and more civilised and he has some real moments of brilliance in his trot work. He loves licking his lips and I wonder what judges will make of that. I have never seen another horse doing that ever, he literally licks his lips like a dog and carries on ;)

I put JTE on the lunge and do various funny coordination exercises. She is a perfectionist. I like that but I know it can be a burden too so we keep things light, educational and purposeful.
We then go through her BE100 dressage test in preparation for her event on Sunday. The horse is very talented OTTB but is most settled when he can lean on the bit a little so I let her ride him slightly on the forehand which keeps him more relaxed and confident. Once JTE builds confidence in her ability we will get him out of this habit.

Next is Shabby and we focus on his confidence and Emma's eye for a stride with him.
I set a simple grid in a way that I can take the placing poles away until there is only one at 3 or 4 strides away from the jump.
Shabby's erratic canter makes striding difficult but overall he jumps well and Emma have some half halts there.
We experiment and decide to ride all canter in light seat pretty much up to the take off. We find that he quite likes it.

She makes me laugh when Shabby gets excited on the right rein and they miss the stride to the first placing pole.
- The pole was not on my stride - she says. We joke about it since it's a opposite way of seeing it. You would always say, I/horse was not on the right stride.
I tell her to put those poles and jumps on her stride. She does very well. I wish I could watch them competing this Saturday but have lessons commitments so I will just keep everything crossed for them at a distance.

He stretches well in trot afterwards and I feel like it was a good session for him. He is tired but content.

I arrive back home just after 7pm and enjoy the new fast internet connection in a semi comatose state.


Day off running about ;) I sleep/snooze until 9am and then some more snoozing/reading on the sofa. I think my fringe is growing wild, I feel like a sheepdog. Thankfully, I am having it cut back next week ;)

Then it's off for my monthly magazine browse and catch up with emails and various little online projects I'd been unable to do in the last 6 weeks of internet desert.

It's a hot day today so I have an iced green tea with mint and yes it is as deliciously refreshing as it sounds.

Until next time!
Wiola x

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Day 165: A full on day with sad news and various thoughts...

Star and Nigel

A good schoolmaster horse is for any trainer like the best partner on a mission to help the rider become the best they can be; like an old friend with whom words are not necessary because a small gesture, change of posture or even a longer sigh is enough to communicate a hundreds thoughts.

Teaching on a good schoolmaster horse who willingly sacrifices own comfort for a task it doesn't fully understand but applies to it all the effort and heart is like working with a teammate who works all the overtime with you and never lets you down.

Today, I lost one such teammate and Mondays will never be the same again. :( RIP super mare. One in a million doesn't even come close to describe this amazing horse. An absolute privilege to have her as a teaching partner who will be very much missed by myself and the rider.


I worked today as due to yesterday's event we moved our usual Saturday's lessons to Sunday. I am experimenting with more feel exercises at the moment and everyone who falls into the net of those experiments so far very much enjoys them and notices improvements in awareness and perception. It makes me want to search for more ideas and will definitely be doing so.
The young riders are doing very well too, I am slowly increasing pressure with difficulty and complexity of exercises for their jumping training as and when possible whilst keeping it all as confidence building as possible. Hopefully, like this, they won't even notice when the questions become much harder...

Young Jasper showed some spectacular work today mixed with very baby mistakes and balance issues but once he is done with his current growth spurt I will push his workload on more. He has all of a sudden become bum high so we need to wait for his withers to catch up but when he moves, he floats. Wonder cob! Big plans for this chap!


So many thoughts currently on my mind. Every two months I evaluate the direction in which I am going because three years ago I made a mistake of not doing so which was followed by hugely undesirable consequences. Tomorrow is my reflection day - and yes I do have to literally put it in my diary every couple of months otherwise my mind just wonders on a never-ending adventure.

An opportunity arose recently to create a second base for my coaching programmes. The London yard is great and I hope it continues to function well but I do need a second location with more scope...
It would mean building everything from scratch (except for the actual facilities which are already in place) from gathering suitable horses to finding riders close to/willing to travel to the location.

If I go ahead and this opportunity becomes a reality, I would be able to finally get my own little project horse or two...For a couple of years I have had no desire to take any horses on and I repeatedly turned away any riding jobs. There have been many reasons for that but slowly I accepted a few horses for schooling and addiction is kicking back in.
Financially it is impossible at the moment but then again, plans don't cost anything...

"Paperwork" day tomorrow.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Day 164: BCA Horse Trials with Emma, Shabhash and some Aspire Academy riders :)

Another venture out British Eventing for Shabby and Emma today. Interesting little improvements here and there but very tense dressage (40.5) and five down in SJ leave us still with plenty of homework.
XC proved easy for both but Emma is yet to hit an optimum time changing between being too fast and too slow but getting closer to the right rhythm.

Shabby's warm ups - both for dressage and SJ - were good. Much to like about his show jumping warm up in fact. We took the time after the dressage to work him for another 15 minutes to release the tension after the dressage test where he just panicked a little again. He cooled down very well.

I used this event to introduce some of other Aspire riders to Emma and Shabby and to experience the thrill of eventing :) I want the Academy to offer more of these opportunities and for the riders to enjoy learning from each other. Great day over all!


Friday, 12 June 2015

Day 163: Hot stuff!

Oscar - are you done with this? I will prick my ears so we can have it over and done with and you can give me a shower! 

Oscar was half asleep when we finished our session today. The climate reminded me of schooling in Portugal - the sort of heat that makes you sweat in walk ;) I was 'lucky' to ride as the sun came out so that coupled with rather unusual airlessness felt like riding in a greenhouse.

The boy was very good though.

I had a bit of an epiphany as far as Moira's lesson content goes and started the new set of exercises today. She reported back that she enjoyed it and felt improvements creeping in so I take it as a confirmation that the path is the right one for the moment anyway ;)

Moira and Tilly - well deserved neck rub for the super mare :) 
Now,  I would like to send a massive thank you to all of you dear readers who also visit Aspire blog. I have had a bit of a shock last night - I've been too preoccupied with real life business recently and have not opened the stats for the blog for a while. Last night I was rather surprised to find out that even though I am not posting nearly as frequently as in the winter/autumn when I have more time and brain space left, the visits have actually boomed!

I am always in two minds when writing those articles. I am not any kind of guru so what I write about is simply a reflection of own experiences, observations and analysis. I read a lot and test all exercises that I ever mention on numerous willing clients ;) I amend them and tweak them and mull them over in my head to come up with a way to share them that might be possible for others to replicate and find some light bulb moments.

Tonight's stats on one the posts
The post, How NOT to pull on the reins - active vs passive resistance  have just reached way over 9k views and counting with several others being close.
The most visited posts are all on rider training rather than horse training. I am guessing this is because 90% of online material is about how to "make a horse do something" rather than how to teach the rider to train the horse.

I feel bad for not keeping up with the posts that are obviously sought after and I promise to try harder! In the meantime, huge thank you for reading and I am so happy the content is useful.

Thank you also for comments and suggestions about what you would like to read about. I do make notes and have a long list of topics to go through but realistically it's an autumn/winter task where I love to reflect on training during longer, dark evenings and lose myself with the laptop and my thoughts :)

Best daily views were on 10 June 2015 - thank you :) 

Off to Berkshire College of Agriculture Horse Trials with Emma and Shabhash tomorrow so stay tuned for the news on how the little sharp horse have coped :)



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Day 162: There are straightforward horses and there are horses that teach you...

Emma and Shabby at his unusual moment of relaxation. Something is definitely changing in this little horse but a long way still to go. 

So many things can change for the better in a horse. It's incredible how trainable they are in a relatively short period of time.
How much you can condition them both to perform desirable and undesirable actions. It's so easy to think how clever we are to teach them this and that. The thing is, that might not be the case at all. Perhaps it's them who learn how to learn...

How to survive in situations where plenty of odd stimuli is thrown at them sprinkled with pointless (to them) demands. As I watch Shabby in our session today I am amazed at how much some of the things we are trying to teach him seemed to have resonated with him. How well he takes to the challenges that 10 days ago were impossible. Yet, some aspects of his training are still very much undone.
And we can't tip toe around them or pretend they are not there. It's hard to peel that onion because you have to go back and back and back to the very foundations of training that got missed out or were simply different for different demands.
Explaining to a horse whose flight instincts were once his best asset and made him run fast that now this is no longer needed and redundant isn't easy. It can be logically trained though, it just takes repetition and time. Horses like Shabby are like a time machine. You look at them and you can see where you need to do better with another horse to prevent anxiety and stress.

He is a trier and wants to do the job but it costs him a lot of nerves. What I learn from Shabby is to never, ever compromise on relaxation/calmness when training any horse from scratch. When training anything new, no matter how basic [it seems to us].

It might be boring, it might be time consuming, it might seem pointless but damn it's so much harder later on.

What I learn from Shabby is that horses are very good at telling us what needs training and that it's up to us to learn to see/listen and act upon it.
That's why, when all other horses and riders come for the lessons the first thing I look for is how calm and how confident they are. Do they really understand what is demanded from them.

Some things seem so obvious yet need constant review and reminder or they get skipped on and brushed over.
I am currently very curious about this young mare... Rising four and with some top dressage blood in her veins she is a raw material that can go either way...It's fascinating to watch these youngsters develop and I am very much looking forward to seeing her and her rider next week.

Now, it's time to catch some rest!



Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Day 161: Mostly in a few photos as too tired for an essay! ;)

Shabby and Emma in front of the jump - you might think it's nothing but for Shabby to stand on all four feet (bottom photo) looking at the jump on a loose rein is no little thing...He usually piaffs (top and middle photo) or yields away or tries to turn away. Today, not only did he stand still (for a few seconds wink emoticonin front of a vertical, but he also jumped it most confidently I have ever seen him jump. Another first was him having a little playful display upon landing and I have never seen this horse play when ridden. Great riding again from Emma who was rather exhausted at the end of today's session but I know it will all be worth it!! smile emoticon

Possibly my biggest coaching challenge - ex jockey to event rider and ex racehorse to event horse wink emoticon Loving working with these guys and today was the session that is well worth the mention - the beginning of real harmony and relaxation between these two :) Fig owned by Ali Gill and ridden by Aimee. 
One of the reasons it's worth getting up early in the morning! Excellent session today with one of the lovely liveries at Brackenhill Stud! Great riding Lou grin emoticon Lou is riding her share horse Freddy while her mare is recovering. Freddy is for sale so do check this lovely chap out! 
VIDEO of Freddy For Sale

Repo (Nordic Run) learning to canter (rather than gallop as he did in his previous job!) - another ex-racehorse to event horse in the making smile emoticon I managed to take a non-blurry pic of his canter for the first time today wink emoticon

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Day 160: Conversations with Oscar

Tiredness caught up with me today. I dragged my feet to the train station thinking with some despair about a long journey ahead consisting of a train and a bus in London that always gets stuck in traffic for ages. You know, the sort of morning when everything seems to be way longer/busier/more tiring than it really is. Just as I almost plan putting myself to sleep my rider for today txts me to say she is picking me up from the station.
And life is amazing again ;)
Some news just come at exactly the right time!

Oscar after our session today, sneaking a bite of hay and blurring an otherwise non-blurry photo ;) 

First is my four legged client and we have a great ride today. He fancies a chat and so the beginning goes like this:

- Hey Oscar, what a clever boy you are, you can now walk nice and relaxed with your neck in an equine like position! Clever boy.
- Cat!!!! Did you see him???? Looook!!!
- Ok, now return back from up there Oscar, you can watch the cat from equine like neck position, there you go, good boy.
- Another one!!!! Loook!!! It's climbing up there!!!! Looook!!!!
- I get it, cats are so fascinating they need your full attention, now let's turn this way and focus on me, ok? There you go, what a clever boy you are...
- SHITTTT! Did you see that??? There on the ground!!! Must jump away!!!
- Let me shorten the reins a little Oscar, you are a little flighty today aren't you? Let's just go on the circle here and get fascinated with how your lovely back can relax a little, shall we? Oh, you had a sigh, good boy, take a good breath and keep walking here, what a clever boy...
- LEFT! Got to go left now!! It's necessary! Must LEAN left, quick!!!!
- Lol Oscar, you do make me laugh ;)

Once I got his attention on me he worked very well, probably best to date. He is a very back braced horse and what comes easy to some horses is often impossible to him unless he lets go of the tension. I am excited for him though, when he works well he feels fabulous :)

Mostly though I am happy with his attitude change. Five weeks ago he schooled sour but now he is content most of the time and really tries to understand my suggestions. He is also like that with his owner and I noticed he schools better after he had gone on an energetic hack the day before my sessions or gone XC schooling. He always feels after those as if he managed to add another piece to his balance puzzle and he was finding it relevant in the arena with me.

Happy conversations with your young horses :)


Monday, 8 June 2015

Day 159: Be the Gadget!

Before I tell you a little title story, here is Shabby working his little socks off today in canter exercises in the field.

Our jumping makeover plan is based on him seeing poles and jump wings every day (he doesn't have to go over them or jump them everyday but even seeing them sends his blood levels up...I don't like any 'flooding' based training methods and think slow habituation is kinder and more humane. So I dragged a wheelbarrow, a couple of wings and poles to the field where we worked on better balance in canter via various canter exercises. Super riding from Emma today even though it was far from easy.

Now another little moment from my life ;)

Aimee: Ok, so what shall I do with him tomorrow?

She is referring to a nice little ex-racehorse she rides. She is a lovely. quiet rider, an ex-jockey whom I am torturing into a non jockey rider ;) The horse she rides comes with various racing related baggages as they do but has a lot of potential and a great jump.
We chat through some difficulties she had yesterday and I decide that best option would be to work on the ground with him followed by a hack as she is having a lesson on Wednesday.

Me: Lunge him, and play with the exercises we did on the flat. Ask him for little yields so he goes from one shoulder to the other, decreases and increases the circle, relaxes through his back and neck.

We discuss what else she can do and after a minute Aimee asks.

Aimee: What's best to put on him?

Me: Lunge cavesson so you can influence head position to some extent

Aimee: No gadgets?
Now, Aimee knows I am not into this type of training so I know she means something mainstream, maybe side reins but this horse doesn't need those. He needs to be explained to what posture to go in and for this to be done by the rider. She makes some horses she schools do dance steps with her so I know she can do it ;)

Me: BE the gadget! Move towards him and yield his shoulders away to help him release the muscles on the outside of his body and bend, if he loses energy, send him forward with end of lunge line or the whip, if he rushes, slow down, travel around the arena, work him, ride him from the ground, just be the gadget.

We laugh about it a little but then ten minutes later I have this realisation that I cracked my quote of the lifetime :-P I just hope nobody else has used it before ;)

BE THE GADGET rather than use one ;) Learn how to influence horse's posture without strapping their head to their body. 

Aimee tried to claim intellectual rights to this one but I am only giving her the inspirational ones ;)


Day 157 & 158: The weekend

157: Saturday (in photos) :) 

Just a few photos from a wonderful day filled with some great people and horses to teach. I think I will call summer 'a balance season' ;) Riding in large fields for the second year running is incredibly helpful and really challenges the riders on all levels as far as seat, posture and balance goes. One of my teenage riders who had lessons in the field last year is already riding over undulated terrain with increased confidence and the rest of the riders will follow.
So many times the concepts of the horse 'being forehand heavy' or 'leaning in' or drifting out mean very little for learner rider but undulation very quickly defines these concepts.

158: Sunday

Every now and then we do a bit of a clear out among our belongings. This time, we added some play with the placements of furniture in the bedroom ;) That play took us half a day but we are rather pleased with the results. Nice restful Sunday with some home cooking, reading and sleeping! It was a long week ;)


Friday, 5 June 2015

Day 156: A little bit of summer :)

The morning started with one of my favourite "English weather" - little overcast, warm, soft air with a droplets of rain in the air but the kind you almost wait for and that feels like a delicate sprinkler. I don't think I ever experienced that sort of aura anywhere else.
Once the sun came out, it felt very hot indeed. The horses were definitely affected, those jumps is temperatures, wind speed and strength and humidity are not easy on working animals.

Great day in the sun nevertheless, finally feels like summer (although it will probably not last very long ;)

Flatwork training in the field for Moira :) 


Thursday, 4 June 2015

Day 155: Breakfast in Oxford

155: Thursday

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, if such exists, I might be studying equine and canine learning habits, abilities and potential. Only if I didn't have to do much with statistics, mind. Someone else would be doing the numbers. I would like to observe, come up with experiments and questions. 

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, if such exists, I might live in Oxford. It's a nice place ;) Today, I just spent a nice day there, started with one delicious veggie breakfast. 

:) Wx


Day 154: Jumping Makeover

154: Wednesday

7.30am start today with a nice, long, hot shower as I am still aching all over after flying down the double decker staircase. On a good note, I knew my love for pasta is good for something! It helps me maintain a nice padding on my back side and prevents potentially breaking any bones ;) 

Friend picks me up from home at 8.30am and off we go for a full day of teaching at Brackenhill Stud. 

Very different horses and very different riders to teach today and I do love how this keeps me sharp and focused. 
Last weekend, Shabby and Emma rode a dressage test of a lifetime for them both for 34, bagging an 8 as well which has never happened before. I am super happy for them but sadly, Shabby then proceeded to mow the show jumping course. It was the first time they entered a Novice class (1.10m-1.15m) too and Shabby is difficult as it is over BE100 (1m courses). 
It was the final straw to a decision to get to the bottom of the show jumping issues and I suggested a bit of a radical “makeover” ;) 

I can’t take credit for this approach as I was introduced to it by someone who re-trained trotter horses but the idea is to look at the horse’s behaviour in terms of how much focus he gives to the rider in a certain situation. 
Shabby’s dressage has improved because we focused not only on Shabby's flatwork but also on a very thorough rider training which in turns gave Emma wider range of communication with him. His focus, which was largely “outward” changed to “inward” and the rider. 
He is always described by Emma as keen, bold and loving the XC phase but to me it is her describing herself there and the horse, for whatever reason, also shifting the focus on her, disregarding to a large extent the anxiety the jumps might cause him.

Show-jumping is a different matter…He warms up in a fashion that could be called acceptable but the moment he goes into the ring his focus is 90% outward. This means that even though the rider applies all the signals he knows how to react to well, he has no capacity to notice them. 

He has the physical ability to jump well above the 1.15m but mentally he can’t cope with a cross pole. I sat down at the beginning of the week and thought out this perhaps a little crazy plan of building Shabby’s inward/rider focus. We started today. I shall let you know how we go…


Day 153: In the wind


Mairi and Tilly - learning about flexion and relaxation

The wind is so strong today that teaching outside comes with a decent challenge to my vocal cords. I planned a fairly calm and specific movement oriented session for Mairi and Tilly which isn’t helped by the conditions. Despite those they do a superb job and I can feel it in the mare later when I take her out for a hack as a lead horse with my Start program rider. She is much less resistant in her neck muscles and softer in her responses to my slowing down signals (she usually wants to charge on in certain places out on a hack even when tired). 

Young Oscar surprises me with his focus in spitting rain and driving wind. He has a bit of a history for rodeo displays (which I refused to watch videos of ;) What one can’t see, one doesn’t visualise!) so I was gearing up for a flying lesson but he acted very mature. I take it as a reward for our dedication that the sun comes out half way through the session and we sunbathe our way through trot work and canter work. I am teaching him more lateral flexibility as well as continuing learning about how he prefers to be taught…

I feed Oscar and set off for a hack with Andrew. We have an amazing spell of sunshine and a really good ride. Whenever my riders are able to share suitable horses I like to take them out hacking as soon as they sit well. Learning on a quiet, well mannered horse in natural environment is to me one of the best way to acquire effortless balance and understanding of the horse. 

I arrive at my home station about 7pm and set off to find a Starbucks that opens until 9pm so I can catch up with all the online stuff. Having no reliable connection at home (5th week now :( ) is proving very tiring. 

At the end of June I am off to Poland to run another training weekend there. I didn’t want a big event this time so have only spread the word among current Aspire riders at suitable levels and offered 2 places. One of the places is now taken and I think I won’t pursue filling in of the other one so I have more time with the family this time. My last training weekend there saw me at the yard from morning until late evening. Considering I go back to see my family about twice a year it will be nice to have more opportunities for a reunion with everyone. 

Hotel for the rider booked and horse share confirmed and I am finally back home about 10pm. Yawn ;) 


Monday, 1 June 2015

Day 152: Motivation explored and feel discovered

Monday 1st June

Some horses would happily give you a black toe and walk all over you for a carrot. Some would happily ignore you, even if you brought a whole greengrocers over.
Some don't care if you lose your balance a little in a turn in canter, some panic if you lose a stirrup and fiddle to get it back in walk.
Some melt away at a gentle pat on the shoulder, some prefer that you just sit better, then they relax and breathe out a sigh of relief.

The motivation of equines can be mind boggling ;) But I am yet to ride or teach on a horse who, if shown how to relax in movement, wouldn't try to reach that state again...

Rugging up after a our flexions and relaxation focused session this morning
Each week I revise my riders' lessons content so we can introduce some new elements or find new ways of working on previous ones. This week, with my Foundation programme riders, I am focusing on the ability to show the horse how to relax their neck and body through the right set of aids.

Sometimes this is very easy with laid back horses and not so easy with highly strung ones. Great session today, it's great to watch when rider starts acting through feel rather than instruction :)

On a separate note, I must say, I have fallen off badly a few times, hit the ground very hard at times but nothing compares to falling down the stairs on a double decker bus when it turns ;) I missed the second step down and flew nicely the entire set of stairs to land at the bottom nearly seeing black. Not the best way to start your day and my ass better hurries up healing because I've got to ride tomorrow! Good job I don't work as a pool guard and have to wear a swimsuit to 'the office' ;)


Day 150 & 151: The reasons....

Day 150: Saturday

Two lovely ladies who I am preparing for Development programme; after our lesson on Saturday
Whether we want to admit it or not, we ride for many different reasons. Some riders want a social buzz of like minded people around them, some seek adventures in the saddle, some look for variety in their riding experiences, some for skills to impress with, some for self-development. 

And then, there are those who seek a deeper understanding of schooling for soundness in the horse and the same quality in own seat. These are the riders I seek to teach :) 

What they learn are not easy tasks. They might mean going back to the very basics, or falling off, or getting scared (even if irrationally) or wanting to do more but having to hold back. It might mean training out of your comfort zone, asking questions you never thought of, discovering riding for many aspects that perhaps before have not entered the equation. 

I also think, whether we want to admit it or not, we teach for many different reasons. My predominant, conscious reason is to bring the best out of the person as a rider and the best out of the horse as a riding horse. I have low interest in riding drills, "effectiveness", social aspect of riding (even though I really enjoy my riders' company before/after lessons I do seem to prefer to teach the type of rider who engrosses themselves in the horse rather than celebrating the gregariousness of the situation).

Maybe when we are honest with ourselves why we ride and why we teach, then we find the right place to learn from one another? 

When I ride, it's almost a form of positive escapism for me, of intense yet relaxed focus on making movement beautiful, confident and effortless, athletic but for fun not for "effectiveness". 

When I teach, I seek the clients who want to arrive at that feel too :) 

Most horse training methods, including many 'natural horsemanship' programmes, are based on negative reinforcement (pressure of rein or of a bit, or a noseband, of a leg that releases ones the desired response occurs). It's interesting to explore methods that do not...

I think I am mostly very lucky with my riders so far, even if some are nowhere near the stage they would like to be...yet ;) 

Day 151: Sunday

Long lie-in, lazy morning, a lot of reading and writing. a little bit of walking - that pretty much sums up my Sunday :) 

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